Life in the Slow Lane: The Up-Side to Going Without Internet

photo by eternal

For the past two weeks, our apartment has been quieter than usual: No streaming movies or Youtube, no reciting the latest hilarious/insightful/fact-finding Facebook update, no flitting through music on MySpace. Our internet has been down, due to a late-night rendezvous someone had with the telephone pole outside our apartment building. (When the crash occurred, Michael went outside to check and is pretty sure the guy is, surprisingly, totally OK, though it's suspected it was drunk driving.)

This has caused its share of problems, especially considering Michael is in his last semester with his fair share of research papers to write and one class being held completely online and I work from home, via internet/email. We've packed up our laptops and made our rounds to the various area coffee shops, pecking away to get as much done in as short a window of time as possible.

And yet, in spite of the frustrations, it's taught me something. Having spent the bulk of the past 8 years in front of a computer screen--first during college and now in the professional sector--I've come accustomed to finding stuff to do online. When I get bored, I'll troll through blogs or pull up the latest online article or surf through Facebook. I'll reload and reload my inbox, waiting for the latest email (and then put it aside to write back to...later).

Without that luxury at my fingertips, I've learned that I really can go 24 hours without checking my inbox...and I'm not missing anything! I've noticed that now, when I do check my emails, I'm quicker to go on and respond (albeit if not as longwindedly as before) because I don't know when I'll have another chance to check. I've noticed that my life is no less interesting or up-to-date by not having my Facebook newsfeed at my beck and call.

I've also noticed that I don't really miss it... I spent one whole day curled up in bed reading a novel I picked up at the library. I went through a bunch of cookbooks and photocopied some recipes for easy cataloging. I created a little "household" binder for a place to store all the ideas and magazine pages I tear out about things like decorating or crafts or planting a garden. And I also don't have much fighting to distract me from my morning quiet time (except for my Sudoku book!).

It's funny how attached you can get to something like the internet with its instant-gratification smorgasbord of options and entertainment. And this little "situation" has been a handy little reminder of not getting too attached to things like technology.

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What will you ask, today?: Thoughts for Lent

photo by Hamed Saber

For Lent, our church created a devotional of short readings to walk us through the 40 days as we count down to Easter. I normally don't enjoy devotionals because I have a hard time finding ones that are truly thought-provoking and impact my heart. This one, however, has been totally different.

Take this reading:
"Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear." - Isaiah 65:24 
What can this mean? 
Our prayers are anticipated, almost like the picture of an eager person in conversation, rushing to finish your sentence. Here is the image of the Father always ready to answer--the desires of your heart near to His own heart. What can it mean except that our prayers are already on His mind? He only waits to hear us ask. 
What will you pray today, knowing this? 
Someone will say, why should I pray if my God knows what I will ask? What can this verse mean but something even more glorious? Our God is our Father, and He wants to hear our desires, despite His absolute knowledge of all our needs and circumstances. He knows there is so much more. 
Like a loving Father who loves to hear from His children, He wants to hear form us. What will you ask today?
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A mini-tour of our apartment: Getting creative with storage

Continuing the mini-tour of our apartment I wanted to share a vignette from our hallway and some more makeshift answers to our lack of storage. As I mentioned before, our apartment has a great amount of living space, but not much storage. This has caused us to have to get creative.

Our bathroom in particular offers little storage room, except for under the sink and a basket we've placed over the toilet. But with boxes of toiletries and stacks of towels and washcloths, we needed more than that provided.

We ended up placing an extra bookshelf in the hall outside the bathroom and turning into a storage station. After buying a few packages of white, cardboard boxes from IKEA (originally intended for coralling CDs), I was able to label each box and organize our toiletries: One box holds all our medicines and first-aid type needs; another hides toothbrushes, toothpaste and floss; another is for shower gels and soaps; another for haircare; and a last one for miscellaneous goods.

Over the bookshelf and our stack of clean towels, I put up a hodge podge of thriftstore-find paintings and framed photographs in a gallery-type arrangement. For a long time, I'd wanted to try something like this, and I like how it gives place and purpose to the bookcase, sitting randomly in our hallway.

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What I've decided to give up for Lent

photo by locator
Last week kicked off the 40 day span of Lent. Growing up, I remember vaguely hearing about Lent as something my Catholic friends did, deciding whether or not to give up chocolate or caffeine. Two years ago was the first time I started to understand what Lent really stood for--more than denying yourself some of life's little treats. Yes, that can be an element of it (allowing us to identify with Christ's suffering on the cross), but it's more than that.

These are 40 days where we anticipate Easter. Where we look around us and see our need for Easter, for Christ's death, resurrection and conquering of evil. Where we see our need for that kind of eternal hope in a world that is filled with suffering. But that the suffering will come to an end, and is coming... It is a time when we see that hope and realize our own brokenness, it is a time of repenting for our sins and appreciating the freedom that Christ brought us with the first Easter. That is why we can celebrate come Easter morning!

Without that understanding, "giving up" things for Lent is pretty pointless. It can too easily become legalistic, more about counting down to when we can finally have a sweet or a cup of coke rather than identifying with "the reason for the season." Last year, I decided to join the "giving up" club. I gave up soda, my friend gave up shopping. I knew others who gave up Facebook. But then, once Lent had passed, I went back to not thinking twice about ordering a soda. It mattered for a few weeks, but then the importance of it wore off, as most things do.

This year, I wasn't going to give up anything. But as I'm working through my month of not being aware of the power of my words regarding my husband, I realized how important that awareness is in every part of life, not just my marriage. I hope to use this 40 day stretch of time to ingrain a new habit--one learning to eliminate negativity from my speech--that will last long past Lent. I'll take any negativity to God or to my journal, but make an effort to keep it from my speech, which will be hard because oftentimes that can make for great conversation!

Experts argue that it only takes 21 days to learn a new habit. Lent is generous, giving me twice the amount of time to reach that (or at least a noticeable improvement!). And by the grace of God and guidance of the Holy Spirit, I will.

Jesus looked at them and said, "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible."
Matthew 19:26

Is there anything on your “giving up” list this Lent?

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A Love Letter...


A note that Michael left taped on the bathroom mirror for me:

"I read a Chinese proverb yesterday: 'Good company along the journey makes it go better.' YOU ARE MY GOOD COMPANY! I LOVE YOU."

Reason #6482 why I love this man! I'm a blessed woman!

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Back to the classroom for me!

photo by iotdfi

You know how there are some books that seem to be written just for you?  Those books where an author is able to speak directly into our soul, and you read along, going, 'Yes, yes!' Those book that have the uncanny ability to put to words things and piece together ideas that you never knew you longed to hear and realize.

One of those books for me was Lauren Winner's memoir, Girl Meets God. In it, she tells the story of how she went from being an Orthodox Jew to believing in Christ (through a dream no less) and her insights into being a Christian. One of the things that struck me about her was how much depth her Jewish experience brought to her Christian faith, how Jewish traditions add meaning to so many things that the rest of us seem to miss--in reading the Bible but also in normal, everyday life.

Which is why, starting this week, Michael and I will be taking a 3-week-long class at a local synogogue: "An Introduction to Judaism." (Plus, it's free!) I can't wait!

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Kitchen Tip for Easily Chopping Potatoes

I've mentioned before the love we have for sweet potatoes in our house--which equates to quite a bit of chopping up those vegetables.

One day, as I was struggling to push the knife through yet another sweet potato, my husband wandered in and remembered a tip from his days working in a restaurant that prepared all its food fresh: Soak the potatoes in a bowl of water for a couple of minutes before slicing and dicing, and the culinary task will become ever so much easier.

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photo by fotoosvanrobin

What It Looks Like When We Take Things Into Our Own Hands: A Story About Two Brothers

original illustration by art.crazed

Once upon a time, there were two brothers, Jacob and Esau. Essentially, Jacob was a jerk who cheated his brother out of everything. Jacob ended up with all the wealth and all the blessing, with nothing left for his big brother. And they (well, Jacob, anyway) lived happily ever after.

Am I the only one who reads this story and goes, "HUH?!" It has always ticked me off to read about how Jacob did all these mean things to his brother (though Esau definitely played a part when it came to paying for his stew) and still ended up getting rewarded by God in the end. How is that fair? I thought cheaters weren't supposed to prosper? It just didn't sit well with me at all.

Recently, I read that story again and still couldn't shake those feelings and questions about why God would reward such deceit. So I decided to do a little investigation...and finally got some answers to these questions that wrestled with my conscience.

In this story of Jacob stealing his brother's inheritance and blessing, I read in my study bible about how God had already promised that Jacob would rule over Esau, even though he was the younger brother. Yet, God's promise didn't seem enough; Jacob and his mother Rebekah decided to take matters to into their own hands and make it happen now. They used trickery and bribery to usher in something God had already promised them, rather than wait on his perfect timing!

Isn't this what we see time and time again, in the Bible and in our own lives? Abraham and Sarah are promised a baby but when she doesn't become pregnant, she has him sleep with her maidservant. God tells us he'll provide for us, but we spend time worrying and fretting about finances and accumulating wealth.

And look at the pain that it caused. The commentary in my study bible points out: Although Jacob got the blessing he wanted, his deceptions cost him dearly. He never saw his mother again. His brother wanted to kill him. His family became torn by strife. Esau became the founder of an enemy nation. He was on the receiving end of deception when he wanted to marry Rachel.

While God still used Jacob's deceptions to fulfill the purpose he'd already established, we have to believe that this was not the plan God had in mind. And had Jacob waited for God to bring it about, we can only imagine how different his life--and perhaps even the world--might have turned out!

Realizing all this has really opened my eyes to making me aware of not trying to force God's hand in my life, but to wait on him to bring about the things he has promised. (Specifically, things like the right job!)

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A 30-Day Challenge for Your Heart

photo by helga
I recently came across a section on the website which includes a handful of different 30-day challenges: From cultivating a heart of gratitude to turning the TV off for a month to focusing on the power of words in your marriage. Each day, they send you an email with suggestions and insights to help you work through the month-long challenge.

For the ever self-improver in me, I wasted no time signing up. With decades ahead of me, it's important that I try to build good, healthy habits now, whether it's in my own personal life or interrelationally. Personally, I chose the 30-day Encourage Your Husband challenge, where you commit to say nothing negative about your husband and to try to be more of an encourager. The emails are short little reminders and include different ideas of ways you can encourage him, things you might never have thought of thanking him for (like the fact that he gets up and goes to work--or class--each day).

What do you think: Would you be interested in signing up for any of those challenges? Would any of you married gals like to join me on the Encourage Your Husband challenge?

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Netflix Recommendations?

photo by dailyinvention

Well friends, Michael and I have joined the club, specifically the Netflix club.

I've never been all that into movies, but it is nice to get to settle down with a good movie, wind down for the evening with a little "happily ever after" tale (or something like that.)

The next step? Fill up our queue. Which has proven harder than I'd thought, mostly because the recommendations they give on there aren't all that helpful. And also because I'm kind of picky when it comes to what I'm going to watch: I don't enjoy anything that's too raunchy or too violent. (Michael and I were watching 24 and the sound of hearing necks break made my stomach lurch, so that stint is now over.)

Curious whether you might want to offer some suggestions in that vein. What movies have you seen lately that you'd give a hearty recommendation to?

To get a taste of what I mean, some of the movies I've seen lately that I enjoyed include: The Songcatcher (takes place in Appalachia during the Victorian era and is filled with awesome folk music), Coraline (beautiful little "cartoon"), Therese (looks at the life of Saint Therese, who Mother Theresa took her name after), The Prize Winner of Defiance Ohio (set in the 1950s, tells the story of how a mom provided for her family by entering jingle-writing contests, and is based on a true story!) and Star Trek (seriously).

Alright, please pass along any suggestions. I appreciate it!!

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Turning Down the Job: And Lessons I Learned About Marriage

I wrote yesterday's post on Monday night, hours after I'd received a job offer and had less than 24 hours to decide on my answer. 'Yes' or 'No.' It seems easy enough, but I've always struggled with indecision--from which restaurant to eat at to which pair of jeans to wear out. This decision had much greater ramifications, and so it was a struggle I wrestled through with tears.

As you might guess, in the end, Michael and I decided our answer was, 'No.'

Fortunately, for Michael, the decision was not nearly as difficult to make as it was for me. He looked at in on paper and saw that the benefits did not match up and that it wasn't something I was excited about, and so he had his answer. Me, on the other hand, I wondered about "What if this is our only option?" "What will we do?" and about how the company would take it, what would people think, etc.

This is one of the things I love about marriage. As I was weak in this moment, fretting and crying and worrying myself over and over again, Michael was strong and confident. Even though I wasn't sure in my own decision or opinion, I could lean on his wisdom. "Everything is going to be okay," he would promise me. "It's all going to be okay." With those words, with that confidence that this one decision wouldn't ruin our lives forever, he was able to soothe me.

And the next morning, he prayed over me and then I picked up the phone and told them that unfortunately we had to decline the offer. Though it was a very hard decision to make on the one hand (not knowing what will come next), it was a beautiful moment in our marriage, as I learn more and more every day to trust this man with my heart, my life and our future. I know that he meant it when he vowed to me, "I promise you my love."

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So I Got a Job Offer…Now What?

How is it that one thing can feel oh-so large? That it grows and sprawls into some huge, grisly shadow that overtakes your clarity, that consumes your energy and strikes you numb to everything else swirling about you? For me, that thing is a job.

More specifically, it is a job offer. One that I am struggling with. I have been praying for God to provide me with a job, and I have trusted him with this plea, having a great peace knowing he will open the door at the right time.

But, as the door on this opportunity creaks open, I’m not sure how “right” it is—financially as well as timing-wise. It was a job I haphazardly applied for, thinking nothing of it and assuming it would go the way of most of my other applications. Yet they called me back and called me back again. And today, they offered me the job.

So here I am struggling, wrestling with this decision.

I know that “in this economy” I ought to be thankful for this opportunity. But I don’t feel that way at all. In fact, instead it drums up dread and feels like a heavy burden-of-a-boulder in the pit of my stomach, weighing me down. As I tally up the pros and the cons, the cons list staggers. I know I ought to take what I can get, but it seems that what I might be gaining in some long-term financial stability, I would be sacrificing in many other ways. If I said yes, would it be because I’m afraid of the unknown? If I said no, would it be because I’m afraid of the unknown? These are the questions that are pinging inside my head, consuming my thoughts and leaving me as though paralyzed in indecision. I know that it doesn’t make sense; I’ve asked for this over and over again, and now when it’s looking me in the eye, I feel like a hypocrite who says, “Thanks, but no thanks.”

Then I wonder, are there times when that is okay? When that is necessary? Or do you just take what you can get—even if it makes other things more difficult? This is not an easy decision I wrestle with, and these are the times when I wish that God spoke loud and clear rather than in a little, bitty whisper. I know he knows what is best for me. I know he will work everything out for good. I know that even when I make a mistake, that he can bring beauty from the broken bits I offer him. I know that God is bigger than money and paychecks. I know that he can make the impossible possible. I know that he loves me and does everything out of that love for me.

I know all these things, but sometimes they don’t translate as clearly to the minutia of humanity as I would like. Still, I stand lost and looking to the Lord, begging him for an answer.

And then I wonder, do I already have my answer?

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My To-Do List Notebook: A Quiet-Time Essential

photo by jclement
Here's something I've found especially helpful, not only throughout the day but also as I tackle my daily quiet time of prayer, reading and reflection: Keep a to-do list nearby.

I'm not sure why I never considered this before. It never fails that, right when you're ready to settle in and spend some time praying, that you remember: I need to pick up some more tomatoes from the grocery. I need to check and see if the laundry is done. I should do some research on printer ink and look up some books from the library. I usually am tempted to get up and do "just this one thing--real quick." Before you know it, you slip into one thing, then another, then another, and the day dwindles.

Now, with my to-do list perched alongside of me, when those sorts of thoughts inevitably stream along, I just write them down, knowing they won't get forgotten but I'll get to them later.. Interestingly enough, right when I started doing this was when I was reading Let God Talk To You. In it, she encourages the same practice to which I gave myself a big high-five for intuition--that I'm not alone in realizing the simplicity yet effectiveness of this simple solution.

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Learning to Cook: An Art I Neglected for 26 Years

I'm not normally a procrastinator. More likely, I'm apt to have an assignment done with plenty of time to spare and my to-do list cleared off. But there's one area I've discovered--only now--where these over-achiever tendencies did not translate, and I wish they had.

You see, for 26 years I never really learned how to cook.

I can decorate a house, whip up some crafts, even bargain-shop to my heart's delight. But this other facet of the art of homemaking never seemed all that important to me...until now.

Growing up, I had an Easy Bake Oven and even a little candy-making kit. But even then, the  process was all about the end result rather than enjoying the process. That mindset--that cooking is little more than a means to an end--has haunted me ever since. In college, I subsisted on granola bars, cheese crackers, easy mac and tacos. As I moved from apartment to apartment in the years following, I'd add a couple new items to my menu-repertoire (like veggie burgers and baked potatoes), but little "real cooking."

To me, cooking took too long and too many ingredients. All the recipes for things I wanted to try were so complicated. Grocery shopping was the bane of my existence, exasperating me as I meandered the aisles trying to find the simplest things on my list. From my perspective, it wasn't worth the effort it took. And let's be completely honest here: I was intimidated by it. I'd never learned how to cook, so I never attemped to learn. It was a self-perpetuating cycle.

That is, until I got married and now had someone else to think of. Even though Michael has is easy to please and would be content with a revolving schedule of pizza-spaghetti-chicken, as a new wife, cooking now took on new meaning. Suddenly, now it mattered to me. But I was (and, often, still am) lost about where to start, seeing as I never did. It has felt a bit like a mad scramble to make up for lost time and overcome my lack of a home-ec education.

The last six months have been an attempt to brush up in this area. Especially in anticipation that someday it will not just be me and Michael, but a whole family. That's quite a responsibility, and as I've come to realize, learning to cook--and learning to enjoy to cook--takes time. So I'll start learning now, so that someday I really do enjoy it.

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Make Your Own Fancy Chalkboard with a Picture Frame and Spray-Paint

In our kitchen we have a little 8x10 chalkboard that hangs on our wall, fitted in a white, filigreed frame that adds an air of sophistication to the youthful symbol. It's here that we scribble a favorite or timely Bible verse, though it could be a good way of displaying a week's menu or just writing sentimental messages to each other.

At any rate, for how fetching it was, it was one of the most simple crafts I've done. All you need is a picture frame with glass and chalkboard spray-paint (which you can find at any home supply store like Home Depot or Lowes for a couple bucks). You'll spray the chalkboard paint onto the glass piece (though it's a good idea to clean the glass first to avoid any permanent fingerprints or smudges). Let it dry, and painted side is chalk-ready.

I ended up using a picture frame I found at Salvation Army, which came with a gaudy copper frame. So I added another step and gave the frame itself a good coat of white spray-paint.

It can easily be completed in an evening (let the paint set overnight) and with just a few dollars, you've got your own chalkboard that's way more attractive than anything you'd find in a store!

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Getting a Pep Talk from God

photo by
The other day, I was reading about Abraham, back when he was just "Abram." God had already told him once all about the promised land and that he'd get to finally have a child to carry on his name. Abram believes God and leaves the land he's known and sets out to where God will show him. As he's traveling, he runs into a few bumps along the way: Almost loses his wife in Egypt and then has to split off from his nephew because there's not enough land for them both to settle on.

It's here that I noticed something: God came back again and encouraged Abram, telling him again that he's going to be blessed with more land and more descendants than he can fathom. The thing is, God already told him this once--and because it's the God of the Universe making this promise, once ought to be enough. But usually, because we're prone to fear and anxiety and uncertainty, we often need an extra push to keep us going, to keep us fighting for the goal ahead.

And I've seen it in my own life that God gives me grace in this area. Though "once ought to be enough," he is kind and generous and full of grace and love to come back and encourage me once, twice, three times and on again, as I need it. It's like a tiny little pep talk that reawakens my heart to believe, "Yes, everything's going to be OK! Yes, it's going to all be redeemed! Yes, I trust and believe!"

Immediately the father cried out [to Jesus], "I do believe! Help me believe more!"
- Mark 9:24

A Weekend Trip to the Sunshine State

Sunshine. Sand between our toes. Blue skies. Flip flops. All things that were much needed and offered us a much-need vacation. Michael's grandma has a house in Naples, Florida and so we staged a little family get-away with her and Michael's dad & step-mom for the weekend.

There were dolphin sitings (far, far off shore), freshly caught fish from the pier (not by us, though), daily walks to the beach, late-night games of UNO, lots of naps, good food and fond memories.

Here's a little glimpse at our little holiday away:
(I was listening to Mates of State while I was editing these photos and this lyric seemed too perfect to leave out! Right, Holly?!)

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A Note of Caution Regarding Relationship How-to Books

In the short time that my husband and I dated and have now been married, I've read my fair share of relationship books. And many of them have been helpful and I'd recommend to others. (You can see some of those favorites here.)

But very quickly I learned something very important about these kinds of books: They're not always right.

For example, I was reading one book that cautioned wives about empathizing with their husbands. You have to be careful, the author said, not to "baby" your husband when he's upset or saddened by something. Instead, you ought to give him a good pep talk, tell him "You can do it!" and encourage him to suck it up and move along.

When I read that, I was disappointed because one of the things I love about being a wife is being there for my husband when he needs it. 

That night when he came to bed, I asked him (in a most unbiased effort), "When you're upset, which would you rather me do?" and I read the two options to him. He told me that (much to my relief) he'd prefer the first.

And so I've learned that though these books might offer good guidelines, if there's something I question, it's best for me to share it with my husband first before overhauling my whole approach to our relationship. Just because it worked for the author doesn't mean it'll work for us; every person and every relationship is different in its needs.

So as I try to uncover what it is that my husband needs from our relationship, what kind of wife I can aim to be, these kinds of conversations have helped us continue discussing our marriage, be wary of sweeping assumptions, and discover what works for us--and (as the case may be) what doesn't.

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photo by sarahxic 

Culinary Help, Needed: What to substitute in this vegetarian recipe?

photo from san jose library

I will never deem myself a foodie. A sucker for sweets, yes. But queen of the kitchen? Never.

In spite of that, I have been trying to add more recipes to my repertoire and give our menu a bit more spice. (I've made it a personal goal to try one new recipe a week. This week I've already tried two new ones!)

Well one of the recipes I tried making was a veggie lasagna kind of dish. Michael and I both enjoyed it, save the carrots. When we made it, the carrots stuck out like a sore thumb, rather than blending in with the rest of the flavors.

So I'm curious what your suggestions would be for veggie substitutes instead of the carrot? Essentially it needs to be something that will complement the potatoes and be pretty bland and soft, so as to not compete with the cheese and sauce.

Please post your suggestions or any tips if you've tried a recipe like this. Here is the recipe in its entirety:

Cottage Potato Cheese Lasagna
  • 1 cup meatless pasta sauce
  • 2 1/2 cup Swiss cheese, separated
  • 2 cups cottage cheese
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tablespoons fresh parsley, minced
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 1/2 lbs new potatoes, sliced
  • 1/2 lb fresh carrots, sliced
  • 1 medium red onion (1/2 cup diced, rest ringlets)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon pepper
  • 2 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese
In a medium bowl, place pasta sauce, mushrooms, cottage cheese, egg, parsley and oregano. Stir until well blended. Assembling: Spray 3 qt rectangular casserole dish. Wash new potatoes and carrots. Peel and slice 1/8th thick, separated. Place carrots in microwave bowl and cook 2.5 minutes. Arrange 1st layer of potatoes overlapping edges in prepared casserole dish. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup diced onions, salt and pepper. Spread 1/2 pasta and cheese sauce over potato layer. Repeat potato layer over pasta and cheese sauce. Top with 1/2 of carrots, 1/4 cup onions, and salt and pepper. Arrange balance of potatoes and carrots on top with pasta and cheese sauce. Top with onion ringlets and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and olives. Cover with foil and bake 40 minutes at 450 degrees. Remove cover and brown top for 7 minutes, or longer. Let stand 10 minutes before serving. (Serves 6.)

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